U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | RE: Toned cyanotype: history + scandal (even a rant)

RE: Toned cyanotype: history + scandal (even a rant)

On Sun, 28 Oct 2007, Robert W. Schramm wrote:

I too have gotten some wonderful purple tones using your process. It is curious to hear that some of your toned prints have returned to original blue. I have some "Seigel-Toned cyanotypes that have not changed after at least 8-10 years. I have one that I remember most fondly of Notre Dame from under a bridge on the quay. Its a split toned print. i.e. lilac and brown. My experience with Seigel-Toning is that it is quite tricky. You have to "snatch" (your word) out of the second bath at just the right instant and its hard to know the right instant. However cyanotype is inexpensive so one simply makes a lot of prints and experiments. This results in a lot of interesting prints which, by the way, look different when dry. But , of course, that is the fun of it.
Bob, I think I probably called the process you have so (brilliantly/kindly/daringly -- choose your adverb) named for me, something plain like "split toning" -- and if it's the one I'm thinking of, it was fine-tuned by a student (or three). And you're right, it held its color, at least as far as I followed it. Though either you're more generous in ascribing "lilac" than I was, or the water/chemicals/atmosphere, whatever in West Virginia is more conducive... an interesting thought, BTW. We (and the text books) state these colors flatly as if they were, so to speak, Munsell (?) chips, but it figures that they'd be variable.... by paper, chemical sources, local water, temperature, humidity, and so on, not to mention personal virtue.

But the ones I mentioned in terms of fading were every single (and I mean EVERY single) formula I took from printed (mostly old or "historic" ) sources, and/or the field in general that were presented as "purple" tones. Actually (this from memory, which fades not as fast as that purple, but does fade) I found that most toning that used ammonia (non-sudsy household ammonia) did get a purple cast, and was generally beautiful, until it dried...then, zip.

What keeps coming to mind on the topic of mysteries of cyano toning, however, is one from the original "Bible," Keepers of Light : a tannic acid bath followed by a sodium carbonate bath that supposedly gave "an attractive red tone," but, the book said, beware of it because after about a week the highlights turn yellow. I NEVER saw anything you could call a "red" tone from those ingredients, nor did any highlights turn yellow, but... read on:

In fact, whoever has Post-Factory #7 can read the infuriating details beginning on page 36. To summarize, I was dubious, because I'd already begun testing the bejesus (hope that's not blasphemous, it's really a tribute) out of cyano toning and never seen any such thing or anything like it. But because Crawford was our hero pioneer, I cut him some slack & never made an issue of it.

Then, in 2002, reviewing Rob't Hirsch's much touted (and mainstream published -- Focal Press) "Photographic Possibilities", I was DUMFOUNDED to discover the identical formula, with THE SAME CLAIM, except hyped up in a way that made it worse. (Claiming "a solid red tone" which NEVER in the history of the planets resulted from that formula with cyano & those chemicals, and exaggerating the claim about highlight yellowing, sounding more emphatic, while making up out of whole cloth time and temperature of the procedure, which the perpetrator (a side kick of Hirsch) had CLEARLY never done, nor had either of them done their other "alternative" processes, like gum printing, which they'd invented a series of kindergarten-type assertions about, such as "pure blue" is difficult to achieve, because the dichromate changes it to green.

Still, the gum inventions were at least their own stupidity, ignorance, fakery, etc. I was less amused, more outraged by the COPIED claim about the cyano toner. So I launched a series of tests, trying to figure out where, how & why that notion of "yellowing" began, among other mysteries. I wrote the project up same issue (starting page 36) and supplied my best guesses about how the myth could have gotten started (by some experimenter circa 1850), noting that no yellowing other than some I'd managed deliberately and ingeniously to conjure myself occurred in my samples after many WEEKS.

I added in small print (I was timid in those days) a postscript about sloppy claims and downright fraud in alt books. It also occured to me to mention that any formula in P-F not done by the author stated so clearly. And in this context it also occurs to me to point out that Christopher James does ALL his formulas &... having worked with him in some minor respects, on his 2nd edition due out in spring, I can only add "oh boy, does he ever."

Though we take that for granted... surely Christina Anderson, Sandy King, et al, don't pipe air....tho at least some of the mainstreamers do....

OK, sorry for the rant (well, I'm not sorry, tho I apologize anyway). I trust that I've made the point that not everything you read in books is gospel, not even the bible. (Another horror story was John Schaefer's "Ansel Adams series, Book 2," if you could believe on alternative processes... but I forget which issue that was in.) And, please note, I got all the way to the end here without mentioning Paul Anderson even once.